A year makes a big difference, especially for West Virginia junior linebacker Jared Barber. In 2012, Barber made just 34 total tackles. Through seven games in 2013, Barber leads the team with 50 total tackles.

Barber is playing his best football yet and has finally settled into his own. However, that didn’t come without attrition and adversity.

In 2011, Barber had a solid freshman season, earning a starting spot later in the season under then-defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. He thrived in Casteel’s 3-3-5 stack, played in all 12 games and capped his season off by making six tackles during West Virginia’s Orange Bowl victory.

Then Casteel and his defensive staff left West Virginia to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, and Barber was without the coach who was beginning to mold him.

“It was tough: I mean, I committed under coach Casteel. I came here for coach Casteel because I ran the stack in high school,” Barber said. “When they left, and the defensive staff left, I think that kind of threw me off a little bit, and honestly, I was pretty angry about it.”

Barber, who wanted to be Casteel’s next prototypical stack linebacker, admittedly didn’t take the transition from the stack to 2012 coordinator Joe DeForest’s 3-4 defense very well at all. Barber was bounced in-and-out of the starting lineup, and really struggled to find a place on DeForest’s defense.

“I went about it all wrong. I should have sucked it up and just handled what happened and tried to make the best of it,” Barber said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in myself, because I embarrassed myself and my family by the way that I played.”

The Mocksville, N.C., native needed a trip home to see his family and assess where he was in his career. He wanted to see what he had to do going forward to regain success.

“I went home during February or March, and I talked to my parents because I wasn’t leaving West Virginia,” Barber said. “We said, why not make the best of it because I only had two years left, so that talk really changed everything.”

Barber decided at that point to get back to his roots. He wanted to do things that made him a standout linebacker at Davie High School; he wanted to push himself like he did during freshman year. With Keith Patterson, another new coordinator, taking over the defense, Barber saw an opportunity to get better and earn a starting spot like he did back in 2011.

“It wasn’t like how (it) used to be when I was in high school and growing up, where I was the hardest worker; nobody ever outworked me,” Barber said. “Last year some things got in the way and I let it bother me, which I shouldn’t have done, so since (then) I’ve just been trying to work my butt off.”

That hard work is something Patterson recognized after Barber returned to Morgantown following his trip to North Carolina.

“I saw a change in him in the spring; he got more focused, he got in better shape (and) he started doing the things that it takes to be successful,” Patterson said. “He does good things and plays with such great effort.”

Barber’s change in mentality has resonated with his teammates and coaches. It shows on the field. Barber sits at No. 13 in the Big 12 Conference in total tackles and led West Virginia in tackles in games against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech.

In a bounce-back year, Barber is becoming one the most important players on West Virginia’s defense alongside Darwin Cook, Shaq Rowell and Will Clarke. Considering how down Barber was a year ago, he is just enjoying the success he’s having on the field in 2013.

“When I come in here, I try not to have a bad day – every day is a good day,” Barber said. “I’m blessed to be at a great university, get my school paid for (and) play in the greatest game, so I just come in, work hard and everything else is taking care of itself.”